I connected with Rebecca Bishop on Twitter awhile ago (@Run_Rebecca_Run). I noticed that she was gluten free, a runner, and an all around nice person. We started tweeting back and forth, and did that thing where you become “friends” with someone you have never “actually” met before. So, when I recently decided to get back to my running roots, I found myself turning to Rebecca for advice on runner-friendly food, long run routines, and race day prep. Since I think Rebecca is such a helpful sweetheart, I thought she would make a great guest-blogger on my site! So, without further adieu, here is Part 1 of Rebecca’s The Gluten-Free Runner guest-blog! I hope you enjoy (and learn a thing or two)!
Distance running is something that has much been a part of my life to the point of being like a second job. My daily life revolves around weather forecasts, sunset times, training and race calendars, and scheduling various appointments around my weekday runs. I ran my first marathon with Team in Training in 2006 and absolutely loved the experience, even with all the pain and agony that came with it. Since that time I have run 13 marathons and countless half marathons, and love planning my annual race calendar as I try to run a marathon in all 50 states. It may seem like a lofty goal, but slowly and surely, I’m getting there and it’s been a wonderful journey.
I was diagnosed with celiac disease in late April of 2011, and it changed so many aspects in my life without warning. I had so much to research, pantries to clear, labels to examine, and many lessons were learned the hard way time and time again. After two years of living gluten-free, I finally think I have the hang of it, and I’m so thrilled to have the opportunity to share some nutrition tips with you!
Please note that the main message of this article will be: Every runner is different and has different needs. Some need more, some need less, what works for one may not work for another. Test the waters, see what works and what doesn’t, then stick to a routine once you have it down. This applies to long runs, as well as pre-and post-race nutrition.
While the training aspect of a marathon or half marathon is important, nutrition is just as crucial, especially when you are running higher mileage runs. I’m not one to recommend having to refuel after something like a 3-4 mile run, and don’t even usually carry more than water with me on runs up to 12 miles, but each runner will have different nutritional needs and they have to determine what will work best for them.
As a celiac athlete that has to follow a very strict gluten-free diet, I had to do a lot of trial and error to see what worked best for my own needs. When it came to training runs, I always felt the most important thing is hydration, especially in the summer months. Make sure that you run on a route that has water fountains or carry a handheld water bottle or fuel belt; I cannot stress enough that it’s essential to have this on hand during summer training. Heat exhaustion is not a fun experience! I used to also have diluted sports drinks for hot and humid runs to avoid sodium depletion, and as of late have experimented with coconut water for hydration due to being more natural, sugar-free and loaded with potassium. Gatorade, Powerade, and Vita Coco are all gluten-free and work great.
When running longer training runs, it’s important to carry quick-digesting carbs that the body can process rapidly. If you are training for a half or full marathon, I highly recommend researching and experimenting with what you would fuel with on race day, whether it’s gels, sport beans, or gummy blocks. I’m a gel person simply because chewing while running isn’t something I enjoy, unless it’s something easy like a banana. I personally prefer Honey Stinger gels, and in the past have had great success with Gu. Try out your preferred race day fuel during a long run to make sure it works for you. NEVER try a new fuel on race day, you never know how your body may react, so it’s ALWAYS best to try out different gels or chews until you can pinpoint your preferred fuel. Go to a running store and try out a few different brands and flavors; remember: one person’s Gu may be another person’s Carb-Boom. Always check labels and don’t hesitate to check the manufacturer’s website or contact their customer service department to double check ingredients and manufacturing practices. If you have a sensitivity to artificial sugars, dairy, or other possible allergens, please note that some gels may have these ingredients.
As for fuel during long training runs (on days where you aren’t having a race day “dress rehearsal”), make it fun! I usually set up a fuel stop at an out-and-back point so I can stop, grab a bite, and continue running, so real food can actually be used instead of expensive gels. In the past, I LOVED fueling with candy: Swedish Fish, Sour Patch Kids, mini Butterfingers, M&Ms, whatever is easy to get down on the run. If you like salt, Glutino pretzels and crackers are also good, but I think the best fuel are foods that are easily and quickly digested. Chocolate has fat that is slower for the body to break down, so I always recommend more simple, quick-digesting carbs. I personally like to use fresh fruit (grapes and bananas are best), raisins, and honey straight from the bottle. I used to carry the smaller packets of honey, but I find them to be messy (four equal around 100 calories, and it can be cumbersome and sticky to try to open and dispose of them!). I’ve even used half of a Luna or Kit’s Organic bar for longer runs, they are naturally gluten-free, made of all natural ingredients, and almost feel like a treat (if you’ve had peanut butter cookie or coconut cream pie flavor you know what I mean!).
Wow, I never even thought to eat “real” food halfway through a long run, but it makes perfect sense! Thanks, Rebecca! Part 2 of The Gluten-Free Runner addresses race day prep, what you should eat the day before/morning of, and how to handle the gluten-filled finish line spread!
Rebecca Bishop’s mission is to see all 50 of the United States on foot by running a marathon in each and every one. She states that running is her motivation, but she has also embraced her role as a celiac disease advocate since her April 2011 diagnosis. Rebecca has found that by changing her diet she has opened a whole new world of running for herself and can’t wait to see what the future holds!